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W3C proposing to allow recommendations which are covered by patents

By sjmurdoch in News
Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 12:13:49 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

An article on Advogato mentions that the W3C is proposing to allow recommendations which are covered by patents. This could have wide ranging repercussions, particularly to Free Software, a few of which are mentioned in this analysis.

The W3C are seeking comments but this period ends today. Any comments should sent to www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org. All comments sent to this address are archived at: http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-patentpolicy-comment/. See also What You Can Do for more action that can be taken.

Update [2001-10-2 12:13:49 by rusty]: The W3C has extended the public comment period through October 11th. Tell them what you think about it.


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Related Links
o article on Advogato
o W3C
o this analysis
o www-patent policy-comment@w3.org
o http://lis ts.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-patentpolicy-comment/
o What You Can Do
o extended
o Also by sjmurdoch

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W3C proposing to allow recommendations which are covered by patents | 27 comments (25 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
Why is this news coming out so late? (3.33 / 3) (#1)
by Carnage4Life on Sun Sep 30, 2001 at 09:33:31 AM EST

Why did it take so long for this to be mentioned anywhere? I was going to email the MSFT contact listed on the openphd page until I realized that she probably wouldn't get to read it until tomorrow which is after the review period.

Send your mail! (4.00 / 2) (#2)
by twodot72 on Sun Sep 30, 2001 at 10:02:39 AM EST

Fire off your email anyway, if the deadline is September 30, they should read and consider everything they received by that date.

And yes, it is strange this hasn't been mentioned earlier. And what's up with the short review period (Sept 16-30) when they are considering such a substantial policy change?

[ Parent ]

I think its futile. (2.50 / 2) (#8)
by gr1sw41d on Sun Sep 30, 2001 at 08:24:11 PM EST

Clearly this 'standards' body is going to do what they see fit, and given the current climate and hostility to free software, I'm sure concerns about software patents affecting open access to development and interoperability will be nonexistent.

That said, I sent my mail anyways.

[ Parent ]

That's not true. (5.00 / 1) (#10)
by piman on Sun Sep 30, 2001 at 10:19:27 PM EST

It was August 16th to September 30th.

[ Parent ]
Oops, I stand corrected. [NT] (none / 0) (#14)
by twodot72 on Mon Oct 01, 2001 at 04:07:08 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Oh, I'm sure they're already doing their best (3.33 / 3) (#3)
by jeremiah2 on Sun Sep 30, 2001 at 10:24:48 AM EST

to get in on this deal.
Change isn't necessarily progress - Wesley J. Smith, Forced Exit
[ Parent ]
It Is Strange (4.00 / 1) (#7)
by Shalom on Sun Sep 30, 2001 at 05:29:21 PM EST

This has happened before with W3C comment periods. People don't find out until the last few days (at least I didn't). They need to publicize this sort of thing more. --John

[ Parent ]
Maybe I'm just cynical, but... (4.40 / 5) (#11)
by Trepalium on Sun Sep 30, 2001 at 11:02:40 PM EST

I don't tend to believe in coincidences like this, and looking at the archive worsens my suspicions. There are 723 messages, one posted on the 24th (minor errors reported), one comment on the 27th, two on the 28th, twenty on the 29th, and all the rest today, the 30th. (There's also 5 messages posted before the 24th, but they're all spam.) I'd almost suspect that W3C's members went out of their way to make the rest of the world unaware of it.

[ Parent ]
This is irrelevant (1.71 / 7) (#5)
by attosecond on Sun Sep 30, 2001 at 04:29:09 PM EST

We just won't use their "standards".

It's not that browsers comply with W3C anyway.

Well... (3.50 / 2) (#9)
by nstenz on Sun Sep 30, 2001 at 09:27:53 PM EST

(posted with Mozilla build from 9/24)

Some are getting damn close.

[ Parent ]

then what standards should we use? (3.57 / 7) (#12)
by Justinfinity on Sun Sep 30, 2001 at 11:32:00 PM EST

open standards are the key to interoperability between all software and hardware, regardless of openness of the hardware and software.

imagine if some big corporation had a patent on HTML. now, HTML is a huge standard, and if every HTML parser (ie: every browser) had to pay a license fee to be allowed to parse HTML. no Mozilla, no KHTML (konqueror's HTML/CSS engine).

open software claims to be about freedom of software, of code, of knowledge. open standards add in the freedom of being able to keep your software proprietary if you so choose.

creating of patent based standards is nothing more than a way to shut out open source and free software developers.

Got water?
Perl is freedom in programming. BSD is freedom in operating. Kuro5h
[ Parent ]

Yes... (3.50 / 4) (#24)
by mindstrm on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 12:58:01 PM EST

Open standards are the key. But define 'standard'.

Just because the w3c develops a 'standard' on paper doesn't mean anyone has to follow it; I think that's what the previous comment was saying.

In the past, both MS & Netscape have failed to bring proper, precise implementations of the HTML standards.... as well as bringing out their own features, not part of the standard. Guess what? If it's implemented by MS in IE, it's a *standard*, no matter what... same used to be true of Netscape. And when both of them supported something, even if it's not part of the w3c recommendations? Who cares...

The point is... standards are only of use if everyone follows them.

[ Parent ]
Proposed change isn't about RF vs. RAND (4.33 / 3) (#13)
by robla on Mon Oct 01, 2001 at 03:09:54 AM EST

I'll post the roughly the same thing over here as I did on Advogato: before everybody shoots off at the mouth about the W3C's proposed new policy, they should probably understand the old/existing policy first.

The new policy isn't any more friendly to RAND than the old policy. The fact of the matter is that the new policy makes it a lot clearer when patented technology is making its way into a specification. Under the old policy, something could make it all the way to Recommendation without a discussion about what terms the specification would be available under.

It's good that the debate about RAND vs. RF is out in the open, but stop demonizing the W3C on this issue. They've done a good job of bringing this debate into the community.
Check out Electorama! a healthy dose of electoral reform talk and bright, shiny things.

The wrong kind of clarity. (4.75 / 4) (#17)
by Ami Ganguli on Mon Oct 01, 2001 at 02:45:17 PM EST

The existing policy isn't very clear, but it does require that members disclose any patents that they are aware of that may affect a standard. As the "new" policy states, under the current policy members are reluctant to include a technology in a standard that could financially benefit another member (generally a competitor).

The tendancy with the existing policy, therefore, would be to resist standards that are encumbered by patents.

The new policy gives a sense of legitimacy to the whole idea that standards can be patent-encumbered. It creates a procedure for doing something, without actually examining whether the thing being done is a good idea at all.

By analogy, if I want to avoid debating the issue of [picks random controversial issue out of a hat] "genetically modified crops", one way to do it is to create detailed procedures that must be followed in order to bring these crops to market. Suddenly the whole process gains an air of respectibility - it's treated like a done deal without there having been any debate.

Once the procedures are in place it's much harder for critics of the whole idea to find a voice. You know how beaurocracies work.

[ Parent ]
RAND vs. RF is not the proposed change (4.33 / 3) (#18)
by robla on Mon Oct 01, 2001 at 05:42:34 PM EST

Let me be clear here. I think it's great that there's a public dialog about RAND vs. RF. However, if you are saying that the old W3C policy is better than the new one, you underestimate vendors' zeal in propogating and protecting their intellectual property. I've spent 5 years working on W3C specs with the intent to promote RF, I think I know what I'm talking about here.

The current lack of clarity in the process means that working groups get formed where there's no consensus on what the output of the group is going to be. The disclosure requirements are "whenever possible". This has created demonstrable confusion when the specification is almost in the can. (I don't mean to single out Sun here; that's merely the tip of the iceberg)

The nice part about the new policy is that the licensing terms are clear when the group is formed. That means that the community can raise the red flag before years of development and open source prototyping occur.

Check out Electorama! a healthy dose of electoral reform talk and bright, shiny things.
[ Parent ]

But what's the net effect? (3.50 / 2) (#19)
by Ami Ganguli on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 06:16:18 AM EST

So what would the net effect of this new policy be? Will it increase the likelyhood of patent encumbered W3C standards, decrease it, or be neutral?

You, as somebody who's involved in the standards process, would like clear rules and more information from the outset. That's understandable.

My concern is a little different. I don't work within standards bodies so your frustration isn't really an issue for me. My priority is to make sure that patent-encumbered content doesn't become widespead. I'd rather throw away a few man-years of a committee work than end up with a proprietary "standard". If the new process increases the likelyhood of proprietary standards then it's a backwards step.

The ideal outcome of this whole process would be a clear policy stating that committee members must disclose all related patents from the outset and that no patented technology will be used unless it is available on a royalty free basis.

[ Parent ]
Net effect: decrease (none / 0) (#27)
by robla on Thu Oct 04, 2001 at 12:01:14 PM EST

Ami asks: So what would the net effect of this new policy be? Will it increase the likelyhood of patent encumbered W3C standards, decrease it, or be neutral?

I think it will be to decrease the risk that encumbered technology makes it in. There's a lot of people with interest in keeping encumbered technology out of the specifications, and this policy makes it much easier to flag problems early on. The current policy makes it possible for problems to go undiscussed until very late in the process, at which time there's often too much inertia around a specification to change it substantively.

That said, there are some limited cases where it's essential to standardize encumbered technology, and the process allows for this on a case-by-case basis. As I remember it, the IETF, for example, decided to standardize on RSA encryption for encrypted email. This made sense, because it was the best technology available at the time, and the patent was to expire soon. Now, of course, it's not encumbered, and so it all works out in the end.

Having a process which allows for case-by-case analysis is good, and I hope the community is as involved in these decisions as it has been in the general policy discussion. It will be a lot easier to talk about the RF-vs-RAND discussion when there's a specific working group being formed, and the debate can be centered around more concrete details.
Check out Electorama! a healthy dose of electoral reform talk and bright, shiny things.
[ Parent ]

More important than a geek issue... (4.40 / 5) (#15)
by dpilot on Mon Oct 01, 2001 at 08:32:12 AM EST

This popped up here and several other places as a geek issue, but it's far more important than that. It's clearly important to international politics.

There are numerous countries trying valiantly to join the information age, though they have few resources to do so. The Open Source Software movement has been a particular boon to these countries. Not only does it give them access to free software for use, but it allows them to participate in development in a meaningful way, including tailoring to local needs.

Patent/royalty encumbrance of standards puts an economic roadblock squarely in front of these efforts. It gives the appearance of monied nations trying to either tax or hold down poorer nations trying to improve their lot.

My comment to this effect went in last night, and was acknowledged as being received.

Here's my letter -- feel free to crib (4.66 / 3) (#16)
by mcherm on Mon Oct 01, 2001 at 10:40:22 AM EST

Here's my letter, sent AFTER the deadline. Feel free to use my ideas or even some of my wording in composing your own response.


Dear sirs:

I am sure you have noted the ENORMOUS influx of public comments made on Sunday, September 30. I am also sure that you realize the underlying reason: on September 30, news of the existance of this proposal and the opportunity for public comment were posted to Slashdot, Kuro5hin, and other websites. The question is how you should respond.

What this response makes abunduntly clear is that any attempts to publicize the opportunity for public comment were woefully inadequate. When well in excell of 99% of all public comment is received on a Sunday, the final day of the comment period it is a clear indication that something is wrong.

Many will speculate that you have failed... that, in fact, there was a secret plan to PREVENT public comment by providing a faux public comment opportunity which was always intended to be kept secret from the public. I do not believe this. I believe that the W3C DID, in fact, desire and intend to obtain input from the public on these issues.

Therefore, I STRONGLY urge you to take two steps. The first is to extend the opportunity for public comment. Not by a day or two, but by a substantial period... perhaps 2 weeks or a month. And immediately release an annoucement of the fact that this public comment period exists to sources such as Slashdot and Kuro5hin, as well as to news organizations likely to reach people who hold other opinions as well. No public comment opportunity can be genuine without the opportunity for public input -- I, for instance, would like to speak out on this issue, but am unwilling to do so without taking a day or two to research the underlying issues. And I was not aware that the policy change was even being considered until after the deadline had passed.

The second step that I urge you to take is to prevent similar occurances in the future by creating an announcement list which would be used to promulgate press releases telling when such public comment periods were available. If such a list existed, I, for instance, could subscribe, and would know when public comment opportunities existed, at which point I could speak or remain silent depending on how informed and deeply opinionated I was on the issue at hand, rather than depending on my chances of reading a particular news source on a particular Sunday.

I strongly urge you to consider these approaches -- anything less will only serve to undermine the appearance (and perhaps the fact) of serving the public interest. And I would welcome any feedback, comments, or comment-period-extension-announcements, to be directed to: <mcherm@destiny.com>.

Thank you for your attention.

-- Michael Chermside
5715 North Ridge Ave Apt 2
Chicago IL 60660 USA

-- Michael Chermside
UPDATE: Comment Period Extended (3.00 / 2) (#20)
by sjmurdoch on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 08:52:24 AM EST

The W3C has produced a response to the many comments it has received in the past few days. Of particular interest is that the comment period has been extended until the 11th of October.
Steven Murdoch.
web: My Home Page
In light of which... (4.00 / 1) (#22)
by rusty on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 12:16:21 PM EST

Rather than post a whole new story just to bring that to everyone's attention, I added the Update above and reset this story's timestamp to now, so it floats back up. OK, it's more editing than I normally do, but I hope no one minds. I thought that would be better than posting a whole new story.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Thanks Rusty. Nicely handled. (none / 0) (#25)
by mcherm on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 03:08:01 PM EST

-- Michael Chermside
[ Parent ]
Victory!!! (1.00 / 2) (#21)
by mcherm on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 10:56:39 AM EST


Now to write the letter with my position on the patented standards issue...

-- Michael Chermside
Wel... some of my thoughts. (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by mindstrm on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 12:55:14 PM EST

Though, in a business sense, the new proposed policy changes make sense... they are wrong in a global community sense.

If everyone who develops software for the web was always a for-profit business, developing a product that requried you to pay small royalties, without a lot of paperwork, is not a large obstacle, and does not interfere with your business plans.

However.. to anyone trying to build an OSS project, for the good of the community... or for a school project, or anything else.. it's a huge problem. It doesn't matter if the royalty is 'cheap' if you don't have any money.

This could be trend setting (3.00 / 1) (#26)
by drquick on Thu Oct 04, 2001 at 09:58:37 AM EST

If this proposal becomes final. It could be followed by a lot of other standards organisations. If that happens it will be disastrous for open source. In a way W3C is now a test case that's followed by others.

I hope this isn't a first step initiated by someone (microsoft?) who wants to probe public feelings. Nah, I'm just paranoid!

But, if it spreads it will be *very* bad for GPL and open source.

W3C proposing to allow recommendations which are covered by patents | 27 comments (25 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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